The last time the Detroit Lions held a team without a touchdown was five years ago during Matt Patricia’s inaugural season as head coach, so it wouldn’t be surprising if you, like me, couldn’t remember the last time a Lions defense was this dominant. Detroit’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons, 20-6, was the kind of bounce-back performance that defines their new leader, Dan Campbell, and his ability to embrace the situation and get the team back on track.
“I hate losing, but I love this because this is, I just feel like this is what we’re all about,” Campbell said in the lead up to last week’s matchup with the Falcons.
“We’re back to reality. We’re back in the mud. It’s doom and gloom outside of this building and this world. Man, let’s just hunker down and go to work, and let’s get back to what we do well.”
As we’ll do every week throughout the season for this Lions team, we’ll comb through some of the advanced data courtesy of PFF that can help us better understand the football the Lions have played thus far—and what to look forward to in the coming weeks. Let’s take a closer look at the Lions by the numbers after their defensive clinic and victory over the Falcons in their Week 3 matchup.
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8 defensive stops
One of the great mysteries from the 2023 NFL Draft will forever be, “Why did Brian Branch get passed over 44 times—and how did the Lions manage to get him with their fourth pick of the draft?”
One more Brian Branch play for your viewing pleasure pic.twitter.com/7YNRMQQPmh— Colton Pouncy (@colton_pouncy) September 25, 2023
Branch hasn’t been an overnight sensation in Detroit, but after returning an interception for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on opening night, he sparked people’s interest. His play against the Falcons should grab people’s attention. Branch recorded eight defensive stops—or tackles that constitute a “failure” for the offense according to PFF—and that was second among all defenders—first among all defensive backs—in Week 3 of the NFL sans the players on “Monday Night Football.” None of this should come as a surprise for a player who made a living by blowing up opposing offenses, recording 14 tackles for loss in his final season at Alabama.
83.8 pass blocking grade
The Lions offensive line was shorthanded to begin the game, but their depth was put under a serious stress test against the Falcons. Injuries to right tackles Matt Nelson and Dan Skipper had Detroit calling on Colby Sorsdal, a rookie fifth-round pick who spent the majority of training camp learning the guard position, to step up on the right side.
It certainly had to help ease any of those rookie nerves to have a veteran like Graham Glasgow to his immediate left. Starting in place of the injured Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Glasgow was one of the best guards in the NFL in Week 3 when it came to protecting the pass, earning the sixth-best pass blocking grade (83.8) among all guards across 37 pass-blocking snaps.
3.11 yards per route run
It isn’t the intention of this data review to constantly be highlighting the rookie class each week, but when you’re pacing the league in statistics and setting new benchmarks for the tight end position, it can’t be ignored. Sam LaPorta cannot be ignored, or else he ends up this wide open.
LaPorta is proving to be a bona fide player in both phases at tight end—even earning the fourth-best run blocking grade (66.5) on the team in Week 3 per PFF due in part to plays like this. As a pass-catcher, LaPorta has had an impact like few could have predicted considering the steep learning curve at his position, but here he is, leading NFL tight ends in Week 3 with 3.11 yards per route run (minimum three targets). That figure is a testament to his efficiency and the chemistry he’s developed with Jared Goff this early in his rookie season, and it’s even more interesting when you notice his snap distribution for alignment on passing plays: 62.5 percent of snaps inline, 31.3 percent of snaps out wide, and just 6.3 percent in the slot.
28.9 win percentage on pass rush snaps
Various media outlets openly wondered why the Lions didn’t make more of an effort to bolster their edge rusher depth this offseason, which kind of felt like an opportunity to pile on the “positional value” takes on Detroit’s draft. Through the first two weeks, the Lions had just one sack to show for their pass rush, and even that play felt like a self-inflicted wound by Geno Smith.
Aidan Hutchinson tallied 13 pressures through the first two games, tied for the most by an edge defender with T.J. Watt, but 4.0 sacks for Watt to Hutchinson’s zero left some wondering if the brass ring was just out of reach for Hutchinson. Fast forward to the final offensive play for the Falcons on Sunday, and it was none other than Hutchinson breaking through to call game.
Through three weeks, Hutchinson is still tied with Watt and Maxx Crosby for first place in pressures this season (19), but something should be said about the motor on the second-year player from Michigan. Crosby (193) and Danielle Hunter (191) are the only edge defenders who have logged more defensive snaps than Hutchinson (182) this season, and against the Falcons, Hutchinson played the eighth-most pass rushing snaps (40) of the week among edge rushers. Despite the heavy workload, Hutchinson was one of the most productive pass rushers in Week 3, posting a 28.9 win percentage on pass rush snaps—good for third among all edge rushers last week.